Iran’s 1979 revolution is considered one of the most important events of the late twentieth century. The overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah and the emergence of a religious government reshaped Iran, dramatically shifted the balance of power in the Middle East, and generated serious challenges to the global geopolitical order, challenges that continue to this day. Iran’s 1979 anti-monarchy revolution changed the old face of the region permanently and brought challenges to American and European governments. Challenges that have not allowed them to fully implement a cohesive policy vis-à-vis the Islamic dictatorship that replaced the Shah’s dictatorship.
Forty-three years after the theocracy was established in Iran, western countries on both sides of the Atlantic have tried and implemented different approaches toward Iran, a country with strategic importance and fraught with ethnic, religious, and political tensions. These policies, at times, have been similar and, at times, have shown vast differences. The regime in Tehran, sensing this confusion and doubts among western countries, has engaged itself in conflicting and malign activities both in Iran and beyond to keep the west in an unending game of guesses and hopes.
Exposing regime’s deception
In August 2002, a group of Iranian dissidents made a startling announcement at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Alireza Jafarzadeh, the representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told the world that the Iranian government had a secret nuclear program and was building two facilities south of Tehran in central Iran that would be capable of producing materials that could fuel a nuclear weapon. Despite questions about the source of information, the dissidents’ claim that Iran had a covert nuclear program proved to be true. The hidden sites, a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz and a heavy-water plant in Arak, were later confirmed by a U.N. monitoring group and the Iranian government. Caught red-handed, the regime in Tehran manifested an array of deceptions and lies to conceal its true nuclear intentions, one being that the enriched uranium was intended only to generate peaceful nuclear energy.
After a long delay and possibly more advancement in Iran’s nuclear activities, the international community reacted with both condemnations and attempts to negotiate with the possible burgeoning nuclear power, the regime of the mullahs that was already branded as one of the biggest abusers of human rights and a state sponsor of terrorism. Europe took the diplomatic lead in a series of slow and harmless negotiations over the next few years, resulting in nothing but an emboldened regime in Tehran equipped with more advanced nuclear technology in its arsenal.
Oddly enough, even though the nuclear revelations strongly influenced international perspectives about the threats posed by the Iranian regime, western governments had been holding to the failed notion that they could change the regime’s behavior by offering concessions and setting meaningless ultimatums. On the contrary, the western countries’ passive and somehow indifferent approach to the threat of the Iranian regime proved to be ineffective in changing the regime of the mullah’s behavior or taming its aspiration for regional dominance.
The “Butcher of Tehran“ as Khamenei’s designated President
About a year ago on June 18, Ebrahim Raisi was installed as Iran’s new president by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. There are no free elections in Iran, where clerics have ultimate authority and candidates may be disqualified at the whim of the Guardian Council. Even by these standards, though, Iran’s 2021 presidential election was a farce. Raisi, who has long been vocally anti-Western and is under U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses, was given the final approval for the presidency by Khamenei. He was elected in June in a vote many Iranians and Western advocacy groups say was rigged. Even before becoming President, Raisi was known as the “Butcher of Tehran” for his role in the mass execution of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.
Raising taxes and tariffs, imposing subscription fees on many services and licenses, building permissions, and raising commodity prices, among other things have been the regime’s way of compensating for its deficit and maintaining the flow of money to its terrorist proxies in the region and its brutal security forces inside the country. The recent sharp increase in the price of bread was the latest round of this regime’s economic decision that has compounded pressure on Iranians.
The regime’s rings of corrupt officials, starting at the very top with Ali Khamenei, institutionalized corruption, incompetent ministers and officials, and an unprecedented level of oppression and social injustice have all increased the anger of ordinary Iranians who have taken to the streets in recent months, to hold a series of anti-government protests across Iran.
Iranians show abhorrence towards regime in street protests
The latest of such nationwide protests and public outrage last month started over the government’s decision to remove subsidies on essential foodstuffs. The impact of that decision included an immediate spike of roughly 400 percent in the price of cooking oil and similarly catastrophic increases for chicken, eggs, dairy, bread, and pasta. Demonstrations began on May 6, primarily in Khuzestan Province, and spread to other cities. Anti-government protests were also held following the collapse of a 10-story building in the city of Abadan, in southwestern Iran which killed dozens and injured dozens more. The catastrophe was the direct result of rampant corruption and nepotism contributing to sub-standard construction.
Less than two months after the 2019 nationwide protests, Iranians took to the streets once again in response to the regime’s attempted cover-up of a missile strike that brought down a commercial airliner near Tehran in January 2020. Many participants in those demonstrations set their sights squarely on the entity responsible for the strike, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, even though it was also the primary perpetrator of mass shootings the prior November.
From January 2020 and throughout the ensuing year, protest actions were seen all over the country, and they were met with violence and repression. However, the spread of these protest actions proved that the government’s crackdown and the bloody response were ineffective.
Regime officials, including Khamenei, have always blamed foreign countries and foreign forces as the main cause of social unrest and demonstrations in Iran. Iran’s Supreme Leader has accused “enemies” of Iran of stirring up unrest to try to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The enemy “hopes to turn the people against the Islamic Republic by psychological means, through the internet, money, and the mobilization of mercenaries,” he said.
Regime change more possible than ever before
The slogans “death to Khamenei,” “death to Raisi,” and “mullahs get Lost” are heard in most protests across Iran. Iran’s notorious IRGC forces along with riot police are mobilized and armed to crack down on these peaceful protests with tear gas, pellet guns, and live ammunition.
The message heard in all these protests is plain and simple; the people of Iran are ready for regime change. It is clear that the West needs a new strategy in line with the growing new reality on the ground in Iran. A strategy that recognizes the desire for a regime change by the Iranian people as a more viable solution to problems emanating from Tehran and one that formally acknowledges the resistance movement that is pushing for that outcome from inside the country.
No such strategy has been forthcoming in the past four decades because Western policymakers have overwhelmingly been caught in a false dilemma and delusion, believing that their only options were to accept the current composition of the Iranian government or to remove it by force of arms and accept the chaos that comes with leaving a country leaderless.
But there is a clear lesson to be taken from the eight uprisings against the regime in the last four and a half years: the people of Iran are ready to end the life of the Islamic Republic.
To achieve this goal for freedom and democracy in Iran, for stability in the region, and for the cause of peace for the world, the EU and the US must implement a transatlantic stance that openly supports regime change in Iran by the people of Iran and their Resistance. This policy would facilitate the country’s transition to democracy.